Fran glanced at her security. Peri stiffened as adrenaline poured through the cracks of her conviction. “Watch the race,” Fran said tightly. “We’re just going into the kitchen.”
Peri eyed the swinging door the servers had been going in and out. Something has changed. “Go ahead, Howard. I’ll be okay,” she said, not liking the determined slant to his lips.
“There. See?” Fran said brightly, actually taking Peri’s elbow and turning her away. “Everything is fine.”
But it wasn’t fine, and the only reason Peri had agreed to leave the room was so that Howard and Taf would be out of the line of fire. “What do you have for me?” she asked as she followed Fran into the kitchen.
It was full of men with weapons.
Someone touched her, going down when Peri swiftly broke his wrist. Head swiveling, she fell into a ready stance, but it was too late as safeties clicked off. She could draft, but she might lose the last half hour—forever.
“Mother!” Taf exclaimed as she burst in behind them, and in that instant, Peri was wrestled to the ground, her air huffing out as her hands were painfully yanked behind her and secured with the smooth feel of plastic. Damn it all to hell.
“Where’s the audio binder?” Fran said tersely. “Well, get it on her. And the blindfold.”
Peri struggled as someone’s knee went to the small of her back. “I’m trying to help you!” she shouted, closing her eyes to block the grayish-purple color of the bag imprinting on her mind. But she gave up when a heavy hand pinned her face to the floor and a soft foam insert was jammed inexpertly into her ear. Her pulse hammered as an irritating whine filled half her hearing. It was over. She could close her eyes to block the color, but the precise hum of 741 MHz of sound could not be surmounted—and it worked instantaneously.
“Mom! What are you doing?” Taf said loudly.
“You don’t think her request was the only one on the table, do you?” Fran said, and Peri went cold, sitting up when the two men pinning her to the tile floor shoved off her. “Why should we risk anything when Opti will give us Silas in exchange for her?”
Excuse me? “They’re going to scrub me!” Peri said, her hands behind her back and a bag over her head. “I’m not corrupt! They’re going to wipe me back to ignorance, and I’ll never find out what happened!”
“Get her out of here.”
Peri heard the door open as the excitement from the crowd grew loud. She was yanked to her feet, and the entire room seemed to shake with noise. She thought of Howard with the black feeling of betrayal, but he hadn’t known. If he had, her intuition would have pinged on him and she never would have come in. They’d used him.
“She came to us for help,” Taf said bitterly. “I can’t believe you’re doing this.”
“Let me handle this, Taffeta. You’ve not earned the right for your voice to be heard,” Fran said. “Go plan something.”
“This is wrong and you know it,” Taf protested. “Howard? Howard!” she called, but it was too late, and Peri stumbled, disoriented, when they shoved her into motion. The numbing hum between her ears was getting worse, even as her feet treaded on hard floors and the sound of the people downstairs became loud.
“Get her out of here,” Fran repeated, her confidence irritating. “And don’t take that hood off until she’s been drugged at least twenty minutes.”
Peri tensed, stifling a gasp when she was picked up in a fireman’s carry, the steps jarring as they wove through several hallways, the sound of the piano and people going faint. This wasn’t the end of it. Not by a long shot. But as the elevator began to descend, Peri wondered how she’d ever get out of this.
She was adrift and needed an anchor.
Knees to her chest, Peri leaned against the side of the panel van to stay upright as they took a corner. She hated panel vans. That she’d been shackled, drugged, and thrown into the back of one was not changing her opinion. At least the bag was off her head. They’d left the audio binder in, though, and the monochromatic hum was set too high, giving her a mild headache. She was reasonably confident they were heading to the airport she’d noticed earlier. And they knew what they were doing, too, seeing as the drug they’d hit her with an hour ago was a mild muscle relaxant and a depressant all in one.
An attention-getting ping came from the front of the van, and Peri shifted to a kneel, leaning to watch the two men scramble to see whose phone it was.
“Oh God. It’s Dragon Lady,” the driver said. “You answer it.”
“It’s your phone,” the other said, ducking when the driver smacked him. “What the hell!”
“Answer my phone. I’m driving.”
“Hit me again, and I’ll pound you,” the second threatened even as he reached for it.
There was a rough spot in the wall where a screw protruded, but it wasn’t enough to fray the plastic they’d bound her hands with, and Peri scooted to a new spot.
“Yes, ma’am. Yes, ma’am. Five minutes. Yes, ma’am, I’m writing it down.”
Peri froze when the phone beeped. “What a control freak,” the man said. “She wanted to remind us that they’re still at hangar three.”
“Shut up!” the driver said. “She’s not supposed to know where we’re going.”